A Bloody Afghanistan

by Joshua Foust on 9/3/2006 · 15 comments

Afghanistan is turning increasingly bloody. The new British offensive into the Taliban-controlled south has resulted in hundreds of casualties, though the cost, mostly from equipment failure, has spawned renewed criticism of the British role.

I’m not sure what they expect. Rolling back the Taliban is the only way the country can even dream about one day being stable and functional, to say nothing of actually producing something to trade and having an economy (heroin doesn’t count). What do these critics wish, a casualty-free war against suicidal extremists? It baffles me. Of the many questionable decisions Tony Blair and George W. Bush have made, the decision to invade Afghanistan is the most defensible, from both a strategic and moral ground. Whoever thought it would be without cost was fooling themselves.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Kabul resident September 4, 2006 at 2:33 am

Fine. But ignoring Afghanistan for years has also been one of the least defensible decisions that has been made. Now the Canadians and British are engaged in the heaviest fighting either force has seen since WWII.

Laurence September 4, 2006 at 8:35 am

Speaking of WWII, I suppose they could always ask for some help from the Russians…

Denzil September 4, 2006 at 8:53 am

..decision was very defensible, but execution has never been regarded as for completion or (possibly) seriously calculated. Otherwise, some other decisions (much less defensible) were not to be sounded in such tempo..

Mark September 4, 2006 at 1:37 pm

“…..the decision to invade Afghanistan is the most defensible, from both a strategic and moral ground.”

The goal was simply to catch Bin Laden and kick some Islamic extremists butts.
I wonder if Bin Laden had been caught if we’d still be there?

Have to agree with Denzil.

Alexander September 4, 2006 at 3:00 pm

Most of the criticism in the U.K. stems from the fact that the Government ministers involved either lied when they said that the troops being sent there wouldn’t be involved in American-led combat operations, or else were so stupid and naive that they really thought troops could be sent to Afghanistan but still maintain a purely defensive, peacekeeping role. I incline to the former opinion, but either way the consequence is that they are not properly equipped and are frequently being placed under American command. While we squander money on new nuclear missile systems whose usefulness in the warfare we see around the world today is questionable, troop numbers in the British army are being reduced and regiments merged, with serious consequences for morale and combat effectiveness.

Craig Murray September 5, 2006 at 1:15 am

Yesterday the UN announced that the opium crop, already at a record high the year before, had increased this year by 60%. The main result of this brilliant military intervention is that heroin on the streets of London and Europe is at its lowest ever price in real terms.

The unpalatable truth is that we have got into a conflict where Karzai’s people are not the “Good guys”. Several of the worst drug warlords are actually ministers, not least Dostum. Democracy is a necessary but not sufficient condition of good government. Being elected does not make you a “Good guy”. Hitler was elected.

Unlike Iraq, there was a link between 9/11 and Afghanistan, and the Taliban are not lamented. But they were the product of the destruction of Afghanistan as the “Cold War£ was fought by proxy – a chief US proxy being Bin Laden. And now we are doing nothing useful but making it safe for the heroin lords – who pace Cornell and Starr’s appalling propaganda, are not, in the main, the Islamists. The military casualties are horrible, but more people have been killed here by the heroin.

Joshua Foust September 5, 2006 at 4:33 am

Mr. Murray, I don’t think casually writing off Karzai as a Hitler-in-training advances the debate here—I’ve seen little evidence he has anything other than good intentions. A far more useful point would be that he has been an ineffective leader, incapable of properly managing foreign aid and stamping out corruption.

Even worse than simple corruption in Kabul – a common enough problem to the region – is the worrisome trend that the Taliban have found a brand new source of income: running security for the heroin lords. The confluence of these two factors has left me utterly pessimistic about the country’s prospects, as its main destabilizing factor is now supported by the very people we tried to evict.

Craig Murray September 5, 2006 at 5:33 am


It is Dostum I was pinpointing as evil, not Karzai, who is not a bad man, nor might he be especially ineffectual if he were not surrounded by very bad men in his government who command a great deal more brute force than he.

You have to get away from the simplistic identification of the opium trade with the Taliban/Islamists. Nobody believes that anymore. Their hands are not clean, but the major players line up on the Karzai government side.

Joshua Foust September 5, 2006 at 5:51 am

Mr. Murray,

Well, when all the sources I can find—which are mostly published reports—point to the Taliban and the drug lords teaming up in the countryside, with the drug lords paying off local and some national officials, what do you expect? This isn’t some simplistic formulation that since the Taliban are bad, and the drug lords are bad, therefore they’re bad together. There is documented evidence that they have teamed up, and are fighting the British force in the south.

Since you clearly believe otherwise, I’d like to see where you got your information. “People I trust” just doesn’t cut it, as that is little more than rumor.

Hobart September 5, 2006 at 9:50 am

“The goal was simply to catch Bin Laden and kick some Islamic extremists butts.
I wonder if Bin Laden had been caught if we’d still be there?”

Also: to cement Unocal’s plan for a southbound gas pipeline from Turkmenistan. A secure Afghanistan would foil the Argentine plan to run an alternative pipeline over the Caspian and through Turkey.

Joshua Foust September 5, 2006 at 9:59 am

I’m afraid what you said makes little sense. Oil from Turkmenistan already crosses the Caspian to the two Russian pipes or the newly finished BTC pipeline. How would a complicated seafloor pipeline that transverses several countries’ sovereign territory improve things for Turkmenistan?

As for the Unocal stuff, I’m unable to find anything outside the weird 9/11 conspiracy sites about plans for a pipe through the south written after 2002. Do you have any sources for what you’re saying?

Hobart September 5, 2006 at 4:09 pm

Rashid, Taliban.

And that is GAS, not oil.

Hobart September 5, 2006 at 4:10 pm

[u]Taliban[/u], that is. Published by Yale Press. The book is rather old and the plans may have been abandoned.

Joshua Foust September 5, 2006 at 6:50 pm

So you think a plan hatched 10 years ago in a totally different security, energy, and economic environment has any bearing on today? Rashid wrote his book before anyone knew the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipe would work at all, to say nothing of whether or not it could be profitable. Plus, Russia was in a very different situation—don’t forget their hand in the region.

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